In the context of Addis Abeba, roads
are not just what they are meant to be; smooth surfaces prepared for expedition.
Instead, any useful life function could be found on the roads. In fact, they are
crucial hosts of life in many cases. For many runaways and delinquents, roads
are homes; if by homes, it could mean places to live or take refuge from the
vagaries of weather.
Many people live off the revenues of
roads. Think of the women in colored gowns, flat-rimmed straw hats, hand gloves
and protected faces, holding sweeping brooms and driving wheel barrows to
collect garbage that earns them some money at the end of the month. But there
are also hundreds, who dutifully rise up early in the morning, some with their
children, take their strategic positions on the sides of the road and jingle
coins as a signal for drawing attention of pious passersby that give them alms.
Roads are also dumping grounds of
construction materials like quarries, sand or soils only to mention a few. The
damping is often carried out by contractors that have no regard to the right of
way of pedestrians. There could also be some reluctance on the part of the
respective regulatory agencies. Roads are also shared by pock animals and
bovine. Herds of sheep and goats take a “walk” in the early hours of the day
driven to their marketing stalls.
Alike shoe-shining boys, vendors of
vegetables, driving wheelbarrows, settle on the roads, sometimes hassling
pedestrians should they fail to strike a deal when they bargain prices. There
are also thousands of men, young and old, who take to the streets for lack of
other places to go. The younger ones stand out waiting for employment. The
retired go out and take a walk either to idle out time or just stretch their
legs; bus stops and café’s are their favorite places.
With the metropolis transforming at
an accelerated speed, new roads and flying passes are being constructed, old
roads being expanded left and right, and sky high buildings sprouting. It looks
imperative that life styles on the roads are being transformed as well, although
it could take time before people come into grips with the changes.
Take the case of pedestrians and the
problems of city transport services. Whether we like it or not, urbanization is
growing at a rate higher than some of us would like to reveal. Incidentally, the
official figure of the population of the capital is still over two million, a
figure taken from the latest census. The same figure is often quoted years after
it was issued, for some obscure reason, as if population growth is static. Be
that as it may, Addis Abeba is expanding breadth and width. New settlement areas
are distancing dwellers every month by a mile.
All these expansions are bound to
have their tolls on transport and other social services. The problem is
particularly serious for people without their own private automobiles. Support
infrastructures like sidewalks for pedestrians have not, unfortunately, expanded
to match the requirements. A typical sideline impact is the ever increasing
member of traffic accidents.
Curtsey to the Addis Abeba Traffic
Office, the daily accident figures broken into categories of intensity are
reported through many radio channels. Awareness creation programs are frequently
aired albeit in vain. The city's roads authority is doing all it can to mitigate
the death-dealing problem. The volume of pedestrians during peak hour cannot be
Over passing structures installed at
Arat Kilo Squre, with a cost of over six million Birr, do not seem to be
functional, although they were meant to serve pedestrians crossing the roads.
Some people say that the stairs are
installed far apart and inconvenient to climb up. Others complain that
overpasses are rather obstructions that had taken too long to be fixed and do
not address the problem of crossing the road.
As I stood by on the square
recently, an old man with a walking stick came and tried to use the overpass. He
tried to compose himself and held the rail tightly. He took the first step with
some effort and smiled. After a minute, he managed to climb the second stair and
then the third. His legs started shaking and beads of sweat showed on his
forehead. His smiling face turned into an embarrassed expression.
He, then, looked down to make sure
where his foot should land. It took him longer to climb down the three steps. He
vowed that he would never try climbing again.
Several people that I talked to
argued that the structures were not feasibly fit to the behaviours of the users.
Some even made comparisons that ring
roads, which are essentially built to curtail travel time, have now turned out
to be shortcuts to heaven or hell. As new roads continue to be constructed, so
have the old problems prevailed.